Monday, May 5, 2014

"Bred in the Bone"

Christopher Brookmyre is one of Britain's leading crime novelists. He has won many awards for his work, including the Critics' First Blood Award, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award. He has worked as a journalist for several British newspapers and is the author of many novels, including One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, Quite Ugly One Morning, and Not the End of the World.

Brookmyre applied the Page 69 Test to Bred in the Bone, the third book in the Jasmine Sharp and Catherine McLeod series, and reported the following:
By chance, page 69 of Bred in the Bone falls within a scene that was actually the first thing I wrote in what ultimately became the Jasmine Sharp trilogy. I wrote this passage in 2009, expecting it to form part of Where the Bodies are Buried: perhaps as a mysterious prologue, the relevance of which would only reveal itself later in the story; I could not have anticipated quite how much later. This scene, and the storyline it underpins, did not make it into Where the Bodies are Buried, or its sequel, When the Devil Drives, but found what turned out to be its right and proper place in the conclusion of the trilogy.
The hen had bled its last. She placed its body delicately on the block and took the bucket over to the drain at the foot of the thickest roan pipe, a few feet to the left of the kitchen windows. The grate was discoloured, stained by thousands of such outpourings as she was depositing now, going back at least a hundred years. She would rinse out the bucket and fill it with water, as hot as the kitchen tap could produce, then immerse the chicken for a couple of minutes for ease of plucking. No great sense of timeless ritual about that, though it had been going on for precisely as long. Just mess and tedium.
It is a tricky scene to discuss in isolation, as it is impossible for me to reveal from whose point of view it is written, or even when it is set, without giving away massive spoilers. What I can say is that it introduces a motif that runs throughout the novel, which is perhaps why it formed something of an overture in the actual writing process.

This entire trilogy, and Bred in the Bone in particular, is about the effect that killing has upon its perpetrators as much as it is about the victims, those left to pick up the pieces or those charged with investigating the crimes. The passage on page 69 describes a girl slaughtering a chicken on a farm, depicting it as a mundane domestic chore, but providing the occasion for a wider meditation upon the act of killing, and upon the different meanings and consequences such an act can have.

I was struck by the fact that killing used to be far more of a day-to-day experience for many people in the course of making sure there was food on the family table, in contrast to now, when most of us are blithely detached from the slaughter of even a domestic fowl.
She felt no more squeamish about the prospect of eviscerating a dead chicken than she had about killing it, though it brought a flush to her cheeks to remember the embarrassment it had caused her at school a few weeks back when she made the mistake of mentioning this domestic duty among a group of her classmates. Her words had barely left her lips when she realised they constituted another gift to the cliques who already viewed her with gleeful disdain: an awkward oddity, precipitated upon the perfection of their posh little circles from some stinky rural backwater.
The chapter does not suggest that this more commonplace exposure to killing made people desensitised, but rather more aware of the distinction between an act of violence and an act necessary to on-going survival. To this end the girl’s father has stressed that her duty must be carried out with decorum: "We’re taking this creature’s life to preserve our own. Killing something is a sacrifice – it’s always a sacrifice, and a sacrifice should be solemn. We’ll live off this creature today and tomorrow too."

Nonetheless, this is a girl who is learning to kill, who is used to literally having blood on her hands, and who has come to understand that lives can and must be sacrificed when her family’s survival is at stake. It was a story I intended to tell all along, and one that has the greater resonance for its secret being revealed at the end rather than the beginning of the trilogy.
Visit Christopher Brookmyre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue